When working at a retail store, that last thing an employee wants to worry about is being unjustly terminated. Unfortunately, it happens far too often, and a Seattle woman is speaking up about a workplace experience that she alleges got her fired.
Takeallah Rivera, 28, was a happy employee at Babeland’s Seattle location until earlier this month. On Facebook, she wrote: “A white co-worker has been nitpicking and bullying me for the last few weeks because of my ‘scented products.’ The first time it happened, I was annoyed, but, I altered my regimen to include unscented products, despite the fact that we work with the public and they NEVER had a reaction to anyone else wearing scented products.”
Rivera went on to describe how she was let go by her manager after a confrontation in front of a customer. The post has since gone viral and sparked lots of chatter, with more than 400 comments and over 1,000 shares.
Rivera was a seχ educator/sales associate at Babeland and she says she was “very confident” in her position with the company. “I submitted my résumé for the newly-open assistant manager position at the company a few hours before I was fired,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I studied my training materials daily, asked tons of questions, and took a lot of initiative. I picked up open shifts often and was very eager to begin hosting workshops! I also heavily advertised the company’s products on my social media accounts to share with friends and family.”
Before her termination, Rivera wore scented soaps and fragrances such as Victoria’s Secret Amber Romance — which she describes as a “warm blend of vanilla, sandalwood, cherry, and creme anglaise.” However, one of her co-workers objected that they were sensitive to the scents, and rather than being combative, Rivera altered her beauty regimen to include only unscented products.
However, this concession didn’t seem to make a difference. The issue escalated when her co-worker allegedly mentioned to her on the sales floor that another co-worker was going to get baking soda and vinegar to wash the scent off her. Rivera was mortified, and says the two began to argue until a manager intervened.
“I stated to my co-worker that I felt that they were singling me out and that they were scent-sensitive to black people,” she says. “I had done everything in my power to accommodate their scent sensitivities, and they were projecting their issues onto me, rather than to the company.”
Rivera alleges that the manager couldn’t come up with a solution at the moment and asked both employees to go home for the day. She took a few minutes to herself but declined to leave, as she says she didn’t want this issue to stop her from working.
Not too long after taking a moment to self-reflect, Rivera returned to working. But she claims the manager let her know that she and the disputing co-worker were being let go due to the outburst they had on the sales floor. Post-termination, Rivera says she quickly found out that the co-worker who was chastising her was not let go and still has the job, which left her in a very uneasy place with Babeland.
Two days after Rivera shared her side of the story on Facebook, Babeland released an official statement, stating: “We are aware that a former employee has alleged that she was terminated or otherwise treated poorly due to her race. This is not true. We take such claims very seriously and have reached out to the former employee to discuss her concerns further.”
Rivera claims that the investigation didn’t begin until she reached out to her former employer. “No one bothered to speak to me,” she says.
The statement from Babeland affirms that harassment and discrimination are strictly prohibited, that the company is proud of its diversity, and invites anyone with concerns to contact its HR department via email.
Aside from working as a part-time educator, hosting two-hour parenting support groups once a week, Rivera says that it has been a challenge trying to quickly find a new job to make ends meet. “Not only was I working for Babeland to advance my career as a feminist seχ educator and looking to advance in the company, but I was also working towards building my doula practice, relocating, and purchasing a small home.”
Rivera has finally been given the chance to speak with Babeland human resources to share her experiences. She has also begun taking legal action by working with an attorney affiliated with the NAACP, and a crowdfunding campaign has been set up for the former Babeland employee and her son to help them both stay afloat.
This isn’t the first time Babeland has been called out for alleged discrimination. In 2017, an article ran on the blog Yo, Is This Ageist?, and an employee at a Babeland New York City store was accused of not being helpful and of addressing a customer’s 91-year-old mother in a sarcastic tone.
As for Rivera’s case, scent sensitivities can be viewed as a disability, according to ADA guidelines. After a court ruling, many employers have strictly implemented related policies. However, Rivera says she began wearing scentless products as a courtesy to her co-worker’s sensitivities — which led her to believe that racism may have played a part in her termination from Babeland.
Being one of the few employees of color at the Seattle location also made her feel like a target. “I am hoping that the outcome of this situation would be for the company to take a long, hard look at their staff, managers, hiring practices, and their values,” she says. “I am hoping that this situation would serve as a learning tool of how to not to treat employees of color.”
Yahoo Lifestyle has reached out to Babeland for comment and will update after it receives a response.
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